Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Keeping the Feast
Recognizing Jesus in the Breaking of Bread
For all the benefits of pondering the Passion of Christ, especially during Passiontide, that in itself can never be considered apart from the knowledge His resurrection. Even though it is salutary to let the Passions stand alone, whether as traditionally read during Holy Week, or as performed by choirs for meditative reflection outside the worship setting, or even as observed in a Passion Play, it is equally as salutary to ponder and muse on the resurrection of our Lord. Much has been said and written about the inclination seen especially among Protestants to give short shrift to the Passion. Their empty crosses are indicative of this tendency, and Lenten emphases are for many the exception rather than the rule. On the other hand, a heavy seasonal dose of Christ’s suffering is traditionally followed by a similarly heavy seasonal dose of His resurrection. Lent is forty days plus six Sundays; Eastertide is 49 days including Sundays. Not only so, each of the Gospels dedicates at least a chapter to Christ’s resurrection appearances (St. John gives us two).
Thus it is helpful to see how this emphasis came to be embedded in the liturgy. The Emmaus Road narrative of St. Luke 24 is informative. The basis of His catechesis on the road is, according to the evangelist, “Moses and all the prophets,” but the basis of His sermon at Jerusalem, where the eleven are “gathered together” is, according to His own words, “in . . . Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms.” The addition of the psalms suggests that the setting is now liturgical. Most importantly and significantly, Jesus is now recognized whereas before, He was not yet recognized. In the meantime He had made Himself known “in breaking of bread,” whereupon the Emmaus disciples arose immediately to join the others in Jerusalem. Now Christ appears to them all, proves by eating that it is truly He, and begins to preach. In addition, He makes it clear to these His apostles that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things” (27 to 48 passim).
The implications of this progression of events speak volumes for liturgical worship. The Christian liturgy, with its heart in the Psalter, sprang to life as soon as the risen Lord was recognized. At the very moment of the breaking of bread, “they knew him,” and from that very evening, as soon as the Lord appeared again, He reintroduced the Psalter into the resurrected life of the Church. Hope was lost, now hope is renewed; faith had vanished, now faith is reborn, and all this, because of the incontrovertible evidence before the disciples’ eyes that Christ had truly risen from the grave. The Supper which He instituted just three days prior is now celebrated anew by His own direct leading of it as Celebrant. Indeed this renewal He had Himself predicted: “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom” (similarly in St. Mark 14:25 and St. Luke 22:18). So also, the Psalter, last sung in the upper room (referenced in St. Matthew 26:30 where the disciples after the Supper had “sung a hymn,” most likely a reference to all or part of the Hallel, which are the Passover Psalms, 115-118), and last heard on the lips of the dying Lord, now is sung anew by a joyful community of the faithful who are gathered together to eat. Their sorrowing fast was broken when Christ Himself fed them bread. It is in the Acts of the Apostles, also written by St. Luke, the term “breaking of bread” was more evidently used for the Sacrament of the Altar, and the term became a primitive term for the Sacrament. The first use of the term is at Emmaus, however. Taken together with the ensuing references it becomes clear that according to the evangelist this too was a reference to the Supper. And so it was that it was the resurrected Lord Himself, on Easter Day, who set the continuation of the Supper He had instituted in motion.
This same liturgical celebration of renewed life, which Christ instituted on Maundy Thursday, and to which He gave second birth in Emmaus, becomes evident in the present day in the Church in the continued celebration of the Supper. The intention of Christ that this be thus continued is indicated by His command that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.” The joy of Easter commenced when the resurrected Christ fed His Church in the context of the reborn liturgy of the Psalter. His expressed intention is that it thus continue until His return in glory.